Quotes from Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth--an Interview with Bill Moyers
Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that's what is threatening the world at this minute. ...Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, "Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?" Humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart. What I see in Star Wars is the same problem that Faust gives us: Mephistopheles, the machine man, can provide us with all the means, and is thus likely to determine the aims of life as well. But of course the characteristic of Faust, which makes him eligible to be saved, is that he seeks aims that are not those of the machine. Now, when Luke Skywalker unmasks his father, he is taking off the machine role that the father has played. The father was the uniform. That is power, the state role.
I live with these myths, and they tell me this all the time. This is the problem that can be metaphorically understood as identifying with the Christ in you. The Christ in you doesn't die. The Christ in you survives death and resurrects. Or you can identify that with Shiva. I am Shiva-this is the great meditation of the yogis in the Himalayas...Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other.
MOYERS: So when we dream, we are fishing
in some vast ocean of mythology that--
CAMPBELL: ...that goes down and down and down. You can get all mixed up with complexes, you know, things like that, but really, as the Polynesian saying goes, you are then "standing on a whale fishing for minnows." We are standing on a whale. The ground of being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward, we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.
MOYERS: In the Christian story the serpent
is the seducer.
CAMPBELL: That amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.
MOYERS: Does the idea of woman as sinner appear in other mythologies?
CAMPBELL: No, I don't know of it elsewhere. The closest thing to it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora's box, but that's not sin, that's just trouble. The idea in the biblical tradition of the Fall is that nature as we know it is corrupt, sex in itself is corrupt, and the female as the epitome of sex is a corrupter. ...The idea of the supernatural as being something over and above the natural is a killing idea. In the Middle Ages this was the idea that finally turned that world into something like a wasteland, a land where people were living inauthentic lives, never doing a thing they truly wanted to because the supernatural laws required them to live as directed by their clergy. In a wasteland, people are fulfilling purposes that are not properly theirs but have been put upon them as inescapable laws. This is a killer. The twelfth-century troubadour poetry of courtly love was a protest against this supernaturally justified violation of life's joy in truth. So too the Tristan legend and at least one of the great versions of the legend of the Grail, that of Wolfram von Eschenbach. The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life. This is one of the glorious things about the mother-goddess religions, where the world is the body of the Goddess, divine in itself, and divinity isn't something ruling over and above a fallen nature. There was something of this spirit in the medieval cult of the Virgin, out of which all the beautiful thirteenth-century French cathedrals arose.However, our story of the Fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.
CAMPBELL: Remember the last line [of
Babbitt]? "I have never done the thing that I wanted
to in all my life." That is a man who never followed his
bliss. Well, I actually heard that line when I was teaching at
Sarah Lawrence. Before I was married, I used to eat out in the
restaurants of town for my lunch and dinners. Thursday night was
the maid's night off in Bronxville, so that many of the families
were out in restaurants. One fine evening I was in my favorite
restaurant there, and at the next table there was a father, a
mother, and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said
to the boy, "Drink your tomato juice."And the boy said,
"I don't want to." Then the father, with a louder voice,
said, "Drink your tomato juice." And the mother said,
"Don't make him do what he doesn't want to do." The
father looked at her and said, "He can't go through life
doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do,
he'll be dead. Look at me. I've never done a thing I wanted to
in all my life."And I thought, "My God, there's Babbitt
incarnate!" That's the man who never followed his bliss.
You may have a success in life, but then just think of it-what
kind of life was it? What good was it-you've never done the thing
you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and
soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it,
and don't let anyone throw you off.
MOYERS: What happens when you follow your bliss?
CAMPBELL: You come to bliss.
In these stories, the adventure that the hero is ready for is the one he gets. The adventure is symbolically a manifestation of his character. Even the landscape and the conditions of the environment match his readiness.
CAMPBELL: Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity.
He's a robot. He's a bureaucrat, living not in terms of himself
but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives
that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out
and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make
use of the system to the attainment of human purposes? How do
you relate to the system so that you are not compulsively serving
it? It doesn't help to try to
change it to accord with your system of thought. The momentum
of history behind it is too great for anything really significant
to evolve from that kind of action. The thing to do is learn to
live in your period of history as a human being. That's something
else, and it can be done.
MOYERS: By doing what?
CAMPBELL: By holding to your own ideals for yourself and, like Luke Skywalker, rejecting the system's impersonal claims upon you.
...When Ben Kenobi says, "May the Force be with you," he's speaking of the power and energy of life, not of programmed political intentions.
The moral, I suppose, would be that the first requirements for a heroic career are the knightly virtues of loyalty, temperance, and courage. The loyalty in this case is of two degrees or commitments: first, to the chosen adventure, but then, also, to the ideals of the order of knighthood. Now, this second commitment seems to put Gawain's way in opposition to the way of the Buddha, who when ordered by the Lord of Duty to perform the social duties proper to his caste, simply ignored the command, and that night achieved illumination as well as release from rebirth. Gawain is a European and, like Odysseus, who remained true to the earth and returned from the Island of the Sun to his marriage with Penelope, he has accepted, as the commitment of his life, not release from but loyalty to the values of life in this world. And yet, as we have just seen, whether following the middle way of the Buddha or the middle way of Gawain, the passage to fulfillment lies between the perils of desire and fear.
The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who's on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it's alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.
We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time-namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.
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